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At CAMC, 10 years of Ornish heart program

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Four years ago, after Judy Darr found out she had several clogged arteries, she completed the Ornish program at CAMC Memorial Hospital, but she didn't follow through with what she learned about controlling the heart problems she inherited from her father.

"Life at home turned upside down," said Darr, 63, of Charleston. "My daughter moved in, and then I found out I had another clogged artery."

The most recent scare encouraged her to start back in the program, which is meant to reduce the effects of and prevent heart disease.

"I'm motivated more than ever now. Plus, I feel good when I do it," she said. "I know what I have to do, and I know it works."

Darr and about 100 others who have completed the Ornish program gathered Thursday to celebrate 10 years of the program that's being offered at Memorial.

"The rate of heart disease is extremely high in West Virginia," said Ed Haver, director of the program.

Once a statewide initiative with nine hospitals that offered the program, the CAMC Memorial chapter and another, in Morgantown at West Virginia University, are the only ones remaining. There are seven nationally, Haver said.

"It's really a testament to CAMC that they have invested to keep it going," he said.

Dr. Dean Ornish developed the program, a regimen that has been proven to reduce heart disease in patients even if their arteries are already partially blocked or if they've had a heart attack. Studies show that many participants regain their health without drugs or surgery.

Ornish's program emphasizes four main parts: a healthy diet, moderate exercise, stress reduction and group support.

"Stress management is the hardest part, because it doesn't come naturally," said John Linton of Charleston, who didn't want to give his age because, as he joked, he's "much younger now" than when he started the program.

Linton began the program 10 years ago after having heart surgery.

"It's something anyone can do if they're dedicated," he said.

That's the beauty of the program, Haver said. A participant doesn't have to have suffered a heart problem to start.

Ten years ago, insurance companies such as PEIA and Blue Cross Blue Shield noticed that West Virginia could benefit from the program's preventative measures and, in return, save money, according to Haver.

"The insurance companies and CAMC realized that instead of helping after an event, we could avoid the event," he said. "Today we're celebrating that, 'yes, we can work with people and people can benefit extremely from the program.'"

At CAMC, about 325 people have completed the program, according to Haver. After completion, participants form their own "community groups" to continue supporting each other's healthy lifestyles.

Jim Perry, 71, of Scott Depot, who underwent quadruple bypass surgery 15 years ago, was among those celebrating the program's success Thursday. He started it 10 years ago.

Family members on his mother's side all died by age 63 and younger, he said.

"I knew, if I didn't do it, I wouldn't see my daughter get married or get to see my first grandchild be born," Perry said. "I got to see both."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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